Participatory framework for groundwater management in agriculture

Community-driven plans for groundwater sustainability in Maharashtra

BACKGROUND

The western Indian state of Maharashtra has been plagued by a prolonged and decade-long agrarian crisis. Thousands of farmers have committed suicides as hectares of crops are lost annually due to dearth of water. However, villages like Randullabad in Satara district have managed to tide over this crisis. Local communities, using scientific principles along with their traditional knowledge, have been able to take care of paucity of groundwater in an equitable, democratic and sustainable manner.

Randullabad village is located in a rain-shadow area of Satara district and falls in the semi-arid zone. Groundwater is the major source of agricultural and drinking water needs in this village. Groundwater in this village, with a population of 1,857
persons are fed by three different aquifers over 854 square km.

The focus of the three-year project was to ensure availability of drinking water and meeting the agricultural needs of the village through participatory, sustainable and equitable approaches. The project was executed during 2011 -2013.

STAKEHOLDERS

The participatory features of the initiative were supported by the whole of the village, and also included the passing of social resolutions by the Gram Sabha. The Advanced Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (ACWADAM) was the key knowledge resource centre as well as the implementing agency. The Bengaluru-based Arghyam foundation funded the project and provided strategic support.

APPROACH AND METHODOLOGY

The intervention followed a series of steps towards improved management of groundwater resources in a democratic manner. These steps included awareness and sensitization about the need for community-based water management, hydrogeological and socio-economic surveys, groundwater budgeting, setting up a weather monitoring station, training and orientation sessions on basic concepts of hydrogeology.

ACWADAM promoted the idea of community-based groundwater management by illustrating its direct benefits. Trust building over time helped to arrive at a consensus for implementation of a participatory groundwater management system. The development of protocols for collective and sustainable use of water resources began with a hydrogeological and socio-economic survey of the village. ACWADAM  documented the availability of water and the pattern of water use. All 167 wells were mapped and 29 of them were closely monitored as they represented the local aquifer conditions. Villagers were also involved in groundwater and weather data collection. They attended training sessions and sensitization workshops on groundwater science.

After documenting and analyzing the hydrogeological characteristics, concepts about watersheds and aquifers and groundwater movement was explained, which further helped in building local cognitive capacities. Simplified analysis and interpretations of aquifer systems, aquifer wise groundwater balance, groundwater exploitations trends in the village and its future impacts were shared and discussed among the community on a regular basis.

ACWADAM has also set up a weather monitoring station to develop a groundwater budget and protocols for water conservation for the aquifer system. To exemplify social resolutions with regard to the protocols, the local village assembly (Gram Sabha) passed resolutions. Communities then prepared groundwater security plans for the village as a whole. Farmers in the village were educated about the different crops and their respective water consumption.

The village assembly resolution also regulated use to only the shallow unconfined aquifer system. The deeper aquifer was kept intact in its natural state, which helped in ensuring equilibrium between shallow and deeper groundwater.

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